Hope And Praise-How I Live With My Grief

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I took this picture of the sunset the night my father passed away.  I saw heaven open up and rejoice in receiving a good and faithful servant.  9/27/2014

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18*

September is a bittersweet month for me.  My two sons and granddaughter were born in this month and it is also the month I lost my father four years ago.  Not a day goes by where I see or hear something which makes me think about him.

Because we are given the capacity to love, we are also burdened by grieve when we lose a loved one.  It doesn’t matter who it is when death robs us of our daily comforts, it is brutal and sometimes debilitating.

But, I have hope.

Because of my faith, I know I will be reunited one day with my loved ones who have gone before me.  I have hope in what God has promised me as a Christ follower and know what waits for me.  And because of this hope, I give Him praises in all my circumstances.

Praise God in the great times, the bad times, and the unbearable times.   Where grief can hold me under indefinitely, He is the buoy of hope which will keep me afloat for one more hour and one more day.

This is why I give God the glory in all my life events.  He covers me in peace, comfort, and gives me rest when I am so weary and worn out from grieving.  He also reminds me there is a much bigger plan than my little world and I need to recognize I am not in control.

He is, forever.

I wrote this about my dad’s death a few years ago.  It reminds me of how fragile life is and how thankful I should be in experiencing love, bearing the scars of loss, and comforting others in their grief.

My family had gathered at my parents’ house while my dad was slowly leaving this earth for his permanent home with Jesus.  As the minutes ticked away, I sat there watching his labored breathing and thinking Lord please take him now, he has suffered enough.  As I prayed, a voice whispered in my head, “Give thanks in all circumstances”.  I immediately changed my prayer from take him home, to thank you for allowing me these last quiet moments with my father.  I was in awe at how I could change my prayer, my desire, and feel the love of Jesus fill my heart.

It is way too easy to plug along in life and when something terrific happens, we throw up our hands and PTL (praise the Lord!), and then when tragedy falls on us, we pray fervently for a better outcome.  God wants us to praise Him and give thanks in ALL circumstances.

We have to practice this on the good, the bad, and the extremely ugly.

It is easier to send up praise when I did not get the promotion at work because I know God would open another door.  It is another concern when my father was terminally ill and giving God the glory to have loved and known him as my dad.

Not simple, not easy, but necessary.  I remind myself this world is temporary, along with the relationships, material items, money, entertainment, and food, to be enjoyed in the now but not forever.  I have to set my eyes on my future, where I will eternally dwell in the house of the Lord with my loved ones and forever live in peace.  All experiences here on earth mold and shape me for my future endeavors, and it is my faith and hope in God’s word which reminds me there will be something more beautiful waiting for me.

Someday.

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

A Physical Move In My Faith Walk

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“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”-Hebrews 11:1*

I sat there in total disbelief.  I knew I had heard God right, but it bore repeating to my heart again.  “Move, God?  Are you sure?”

It was 2008 and we had been married for three years.  During these first few years, Randy and I had a chaotic newlywed period.  He was a bachelor and at age forty-three he married a widow with three children.  The oldest child, who was severely broken by her father’s death, had been a challenge for the first years of the marriage with drugs, running away, and inappropriate behavior.   The middle son was a growing teenage boy who needed assurance, guidance, and direction.  And the youngest boy was open for an adventure.  We also had suffered some losses of family members and Randy’s job and now this.  Both Randy’s father and sister had serious health issues and we lived over four hundred miles away.

I knew what God was asking and I had a peace about it, so I shared it with Randy.  He was stunned by the suggestion, but after a little time to reflect, we did it.  Keep in mind there were many challenges in moving from Coppell, Texas to Mandeville, Louisiana.  But when God is in charge all the pieces fall into place.

Randy found a job immediately.  We put our house on the market in Texas (during a real estate downturn) and sold it quickly at the asking price.  Our middle son was a freshman in high school and loved his football.  We agreed Randy would move down to Louisiana, start his job, and find us a house.  I would stay behind with the children until after football season.  Randy found our house and we bought it with a counter offer.  The boys moved with us to Louisiana and our daughter stayed behind (she had met her future husband and was still working through some issues).  We were in Louisiana for six months and then we lost Randy’s dad and sister in May and June of 2009.

In looking back, one might ask, why would you make this huge life-changing decision?

It was SO much bigger than a physical move.

It was what God asked of us and we responded.  We put our faith in Him to make the way and give us the vision.  It was not always easy.  We had to be flexible in making new friends, learning a new area, and focusing on the boys’ transition into new schools. The process brought about laughter, tears, and sometimes anger.  It also benefited us as a family to bond together and tackle situations as a team.

We have been blessed for the ten years we have lived in Louisiana.  The people we have met, relationships built, new cultures experienced, new areas of the country explored, and the growth in our walk with Jesus.  Sometimes moving out of a comfort zone makes the zone bigger and the foundation stronger.

No regrets and no disappointment.

The physical transition opened up the reality which was we had moved in our faith.

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

I Want To Be Faithful In Forgiving Others

 

I Want To Be Faithful In Forgiving Others

The Bickham Family 1978

 

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”-Colossians 3:13*

I am the oldest of four children who grew up in the seventies and eighties.  My sister and I were two and half years apart.  There was a seven-year void and then my two brothers were born roughly two and half years apart.  I followed the code of the oldest sibling and picked on my sister with all my ability.  My two baby brothers were cute and fun, so I cuddled, coddled, and took care of them.  I loved the era when I grew up; a time of innocence, dreams, and looking forward to the future.

Out of the four siblings, three of us still go home to our mom’s house, visit one another, make memories together, and watch our children grow up.  My sister has chosen not to participate in our lives.  You see, thirty-some years ago, my sister and dad had an argument over something near and dear to them (the rest of us can’t remember the details) and she chose to graduate from medical school and move up north to not be seen or heard from again.  Not totally true.  When my first husband, Scott, died she came back to Texas and made it clear to my parents, she was there to support me only during this difficult time.  This was the last time I saw my sister.  I have talked to her in the last few years on the phone and in e-mails.  While our grandparents died one by one and dad was sick and passed away, I kept her up to date.  Each time I reached out to her and asked, “Will you be at the funeral?” Her response was no, with an explanation.

The rest of my family is outraged by her lack of disregard for our family and rejecting involvement in our lives or us in hers.  I understand why the family is hurt and angered by her rejection, yet I am not angry with her.  Why?  Believe me, I have other people in my life who have pushed me over the edge and I have spent years trying to forgive them.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines forgive as “to cease to feel resentment against”.  I know when someone wrongs me there is resentment and sometimes it is deep, dark, and ugly.  So how do I dig out of the pain and absolve it?  I want to share three truths I have discovered in why I should forgive others.

  • GOD EXPECTS ME TO FORGIVE. My role model of authority expects me to live by the same standards He demonstrates.  God has forgiven us for our sin by the blood of Jesus.  When I accept this truth I need to be as forgiving as my Father.  Every time.  I can’t pick and choose who I want to forgive.
  • I AM NOT THE JUDGE. It is not my place to decide if someone is worthy of my forgiveness.  They are PERIOD.  This is where I have to ask God to change my heart towards a person and the situation and assist me in unburdening the hurt and accepting the healing of forgiving.
  • FORGIVING RELEASES ME FROM BONDAGE. When I am angry at someone, I feel like a casualty of hurt feelings and vengeful thoughts.   I don’t like the feeling of being a victim.  When I can forgive another person, it lightens my load and allows me not to participate in the angry, poor me, pity party.

I don’t have a magic answer and I know my family thinks I am crazier than a tornado chaser (which I would love to do), but I have reflected and prayed over this situation.  Grant it, I have not picked up the phone and tried to have an average conversation with my sister since our dad died over three years ago.  If she called me tomorrow and asked for bone marrow or a kidney, I would be there to give and assist her in a heartbeat.  I believe if I can forgive as God has forgiven me, the relationships which have been stunted due to my stubbornness of holding on to the resentment, can be changed.  Forgiving others can open new doors to relational opportunities and transform the makeup of our own inner circles.  I have a lot of forgiving left to do and hope my family, including my sister, can move towards peace and forgiveness in their own hearts.

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

I Am Proud To Celebrate And Protect The Future

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“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!”-Matthew 25:21

Twenty-three miles.  Three days.  No, I did not participate in an official running marathon, but this was all the miles I walked in preparing and producing our high school’s Project Graduation party for the 2018 seniors.  Project Graduation started in Maine in 1980 through a state initiative to protect the lives of graduating seniors.  Unfortunately, the statistics for accidents and deaths of seniors as a result of partying on graduation night happen way too often.  Our community adopted Project Graduation to help keep our seniors safe and offer a night they can live to remember.

Our plan is to entertain over three hundred seniors who graduated at 7PM and arrived at the party facility around 10:30PM.  We check them in, store all of their valuables (no money or phones necessary!) and lock the doors.  Once inside, they stop momentarily and take it all in.  There is a DJ playing tunes, lights, a dance floor, inflatables, money machines, food, drinks, and prizes.  All night long they eat, play, win raffle tickets to put in the prize buckets to win refrigerators, TV’s, computers, gift cards, a bike, a kayak, and so much more!

I am the party director and it takes our board of directors all year long to prepare, fundraise, advertise, register, plan, and pull off a fun night for our seniors to remember forever.  The blood, sweat, tears, frustration, and excitement is all well worth it to see their faces and celebrate their successes for the night.

In reflecting on the last year of meetings, e-mails, announcements, follow-ups, and negotiations, I realize how I am a small part of this big production.  Because of the faithfulness to this cause which is important to parents, teachers, the school board, and businesses in our community, we can provide a safe environment for our children.  These same children, who are almost adults, can experience childlike fun safely and grow up and go forth and be the future of our world.

Faithful are the volunteers who give of their money, time, and talents to plan and execute the event.

Faithful are the businesses in our community who support financially with donations of items or discounts for services rendered.

Faithful is the high school which assists with promoting and communicating with the seniors and their parents.

Faithful are the seniors who work hard to complete assignments and tests in order to graduate.

Because of the faithful acts of so many contributors, we are able to protect our seniors from the dangers of wrong choices and bad decisions even if it is only for one night.  I hope the seniors realize how much we have faith in them.  Congratulations to all of the 2018 seniors!

How I Pinpointed and Matured In My Faith

How I Pinpointed And Matured In My Faith

“We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”-2 Corinthians 5:7-8*

This month, I am focusing on faithfulness as part of my study and reflection of my 2018 word “devotion”.    The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines faithful as “steadfast in affection or allegiance**.”  I decided in order to discuss faith or being faithful, I needed to ask the question, “When did I discover my faith?”

All people have faith and believe in some type of idea whether is it a religion, a concept, or a theory.  I believe in God as my father, Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and the Holy Spirit who is within me.  I am not here to pass judgment on those who don’t believe like I do but to give background on what defines my faith.

I grew up in a Methodist Church, baptized as an infant, attending services, Sunday school, confirmation classes, and church camp.  I loved the singing of hymns, the activities we did in Sunday school and going away to camp for a week.  When I completed my confirmation classes, I understood the personal relationship with Jesus and believed everything I was taught.  This is where the seed of faith had been planted.

I left for college at seventeen, and didn’t think about going to church or being involved for the first few months I was away from home.  Initially, I didn’t understand why I was feeling out of sorts and had this gnawing sensitivity inside me. A few more months passed and someone invited me to their church one Sunday morning.  As soon as I stepped into the worship area I felt a warm wave of love and peace wash over me.  I was home and it was well in my soul.  I did not make it back every Sunday, but when I did, my time spent in the church was a way to ground myself and re-center my priorities.

Scott and I married when I was nineteen at my home church.  We decided when we moved to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we wanted to find a church for us.  Early on we visited different churches but would not commit to joining one.  I did pray daily and God answered me sometimes obviously and other times not so much.  I was faithful in keeping conversations open between us but felt guilty for not making my Christian walk more evident to others.

In early 2000, I was pregnant with my third child and a girlfriend invited us to her non-denominational church.  It was a new and exciting surprise because this church offered a Saturday night service which fit our lifestyle.  Scott and I dropped the two older children off in the age-appropriate children’s church and walked into the worship center, which sat about three thousand and it was packed!  We found my friend and sat down when all of the sudden the music team started playing a song from a famous rock band of the 60’s to open up the worship time.  This was the hook to catch your attention and prepare you for the series, which was about getting your groove back in worship.  I don’t remember the details of the pastor’s message but let me tell you, it made a huge impression on Scott.  He was excited about going back to church and joining due to this one visit.  In hindsight, I know God was presenting the opportunity for us to put skin in the game and plant ourselves in a church.  It gave us the little time we had left to build our relationships back with Christ and allow me to build the necessary connections in the church to support myself and the kids after Scott’s death.

Scott’s death was my pivotal point in recognizing and living out my faith.  I made a choice the night he died, to turn towards God and all He could afford me because losing Scott was unbelievable, unbearable, and unendurable.

The harder I leaned on God, the stronger the Holy Spirit uplifted me.

The more I left at the foot of Jesus, the more God provided for me through others.

The angrier I became at God and my situation, the more inner peace I experienced from the Holy Spirit.

I have constantly believed in my God.  In the last seventeen years, my belief has deepened into an unwavering faith and a personal relationship with Him.  I strive to learn more, pray more, serve more, and share more of my experience with others.   Someone once asked me, “What if you have spent your entire life worshiping, giving, and praying to God, and when you die you experience nothing.  Don’t you feel like it was wasted time?”

My answer is no.

If I spent all my time going to church and giving selflessly of my time and my money to others, I don’t consider it a waste of time. I have enjoyed all of these activities, improved my character, and helped those who are less fortunate.  My faith has been with me for a long time and becoming a part of a church family, learning wisdom from the Bible, and serving others has only deepened my commitment and devotion to God.    This life is full of challenges and blessings and I am content with the lessons I have learned.  I know how my faith started and continues to grow and mature with every day I am privileged to live out here on earth.   And I know where I am headed on the day my last breath leaves my lips because of my faithfulness in Him.

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

**www.merriam-webster.com

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Making The Most Of A Second Chance

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“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-6*

“Thank you, God, to have blessed me with a husband, again”.

In 2001 I was facing the unthinkable.  Scott, my husband of fifteen and a half years, died suddenly and I was left behind raising three children.  The journey was unforgiving but with my God and His grace, I persevered and finally saw the light at the end of my grief tunnel.  Eventually, I found myself dating again.

Four years after Scott died, I married Randy.  The experience of the two weddings was quite different.  The first time I was a nineteen-year-old who thought I knew it all.

Ah, but I was so naïve.

When we got married, intellectually I understood the vows, for better or worse, richer or poor,  in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part. There was the bickering, fighting, threats of giving up, and going our separate ways. I so loved him and now know my time with him would end all too soon.

But the second time around, almost twenty years later, my life experiences of growing in my faith and actually losing a husband made these vows come alive and burn into my soul.  Jesus spoke in Matthew 19:6-“So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate”*. For the second time, I stood before God, Randy, and a few witnesses, to declare our marriage as a covenant which would not be broken by man.

When we marry, a man and a woman join as one.  In Genesis 3:24 it says-“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”*.  When we join together, we make a covenant with God, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in death.

Marriage is not easy.  In many ways, it is like working out.  You have to commit to it daily and sometimes it is painful and hard, but the results are rewarding.  I love my husband but I don’t like some of his actions and I am sure he can say the same about me!  It is my duty as a wife to invest in my husband, build him up, and support him.   Relationships, in general, need to be nurtured, fed and sometimes pruned.  There will be disagreements, but a couple who puts God first can learn how to disagree by praying for each other, discussing the issue and compromising on a solution.

Why do we spend more time watching television, texting, and reading social media then investing time in developing our relationships?  We fight for the principles we want: a local law changed, a change in a school dress code, electing a new official, but we don’t fight for our marriage?  What better example to pass on to our children and future generations than a couple who honors God first in their marriage and is committed to working out the differences, building each other up, and growing together.

I have been praying for a married couple who is going through a serious rough patch in their marriage. As I have been praying for them it was revealed to me, marriage is a perfect example of honoring God and acting out our Christian values.  My prayer is for this husband and wife, to put God first in the marriage, and then focus on themselves and what needs to change with them individually, not changing each other.

I have learned when I get frustrated with Randy, I seek God to change my heart, and reveal to me what I need to change.  I also lift Randy up in prayer daily, asking God to show me how to build him up so he can receive God’s provisions.  Our marriage is not perfect, but we give it to God daily so He is glorified through our covenant and we can testify to others of His love.

I am so honored to receive another opportunity to learn from God what I need to focus on to be a better wife and partner for Randy.  I am in this marriage for the long haul and I pray my obedience to God, my husband, and our marriage testifies to others of God’s unconditional love for all of us.

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Letting Go

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“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. “-Psalm 127:3-4*

Affection is my word for the month of April and what comes to mind is my love and affection for my children.  I would do anything for my children, but sometimes there is nothing which can be done. I found myself in this position and all I could do is give my daughter to God.

In my younger years when I was asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, my response was to be married and be a momma! It was my dream and I was blessed with my first and only girl, Taryn, in January 1990.  She was a daddy’s girl from the get-go.  Needless to say, when he suddenly died in 2001, it was devastating for all three of my children.  Taryn retreated to a dark and empty abyss and the climb out of the hole was brutal on all of us.

I witnessed behavior issues and did everything I could to “fix” her.  We saw counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors.  She was evaluated for disorders and learning disabilities.  She built this huge wall around her and would not let anyone into her painful world.  As time marched on, there was disobedience, drugs, drinking, and even running away for five weeks.  As her mom, I kept trying to figure out what I had done wrong.  Was it something I said or something I did or did not do?   The guilt and the shame weighed me down and I was drowning in my own grief- again.  This time over my child who I could not reach, heal, or understand.

Thank God for my husband Randy, who reached out to experts, and explored our options to save Taryn from her destructive actions.  We decided to send her to an eight-week wilderness therapy camp.  It is like something you would see on a reality TV; two undercover police escorts came at 4AM and woke her up, handcuffed her, and walked her out to the front door.  I was ordered to stay in my bedroom with the door shut.  I rocked myself back and forth crying out to God to save my little girl.  At this moment I realized, I had to give her up to Him.  His will would be done.

  • Turning over control- My first major hurdle was the realization I could not fix Taryn and God was the one in control. It did not matter how many people we consulted to find an explanation as to why she was acting this way.  Taryn later revealed to us she blamed herself for her father’s death.  She was eleven at the time and her dad had sent her to her room for misbehaving at dinner.  She remembers stomping up the stairs and wishing he would go away.  He left later in the evening to play in a soccer game, where he collapsed on the field and died.  She carried this burden on herself and told no one for six years.
  • Turning over anger- Not all issues were resolved overnight. Even after the therapy program, Taryn continued to slip back into her old habits and wound up pregnant at seventeen.  She gave birth to a baby boy after her eighteenth birthday and gave him up for adoption.  It was the best decision for both her and the baby as she continued to heal and work on herself.  This was a huge disappointment for me and I had to come to a place of forgiveness and letting go of the anger.
  • Turning over pain- Today, Taryn is twenty-eight years old, married with two beautiful daughters (my grandbabies!). She graduated high school and completed her Associate’s degree as a medical assistant.  She works extremely hard for her family and plans on going back to school this year to complete her registered nursing degree.  I burst with pride as she has risen above her anger, hurt, and grief.  I have had to forgive her for all the hateful comments, actions, and pain she has created for herself and our family.  I am so thankful to God for walking with and bringing us through these circumstances and strengthening our bond as a mother and daughter.

I am amazed at how God guided and directed me as a mother.  I know I am not perfect, but am so blessed to call myself the mother of these three beautiful children.  I look forward to seeing how they grow up, parent my grandchildren, and I pray they enjoy and cherish all the moments.  It is said children are a gift from God.  Thank you, Lord, for picking me to be the one and only mother of these three children.  I love you Taryn, Hunter, and Braeden!!!

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society